1. UCOOK’s zero to R100 million journey
UCOOK is a farm to fork meal kit business that delivers high-quality meals. It supports small local farmers, so customers know that when they support UCOOK, they are supporting independent, organic farmers, over and above the excellent meals they receive. It’s a sophisticated, high-quality brand – and yet the very first meal kits that founders David Torr and Chris Verster-Cohen packed were put together in a garage in Cape Town.
The partners bootstrapped their business, using pre-orders to fund the ingredients and paying special attention to every detail. There was a lot of trial and error – they forgot to include a recipe in their first kits and no one knew what to do with the ingredients they had received – but each lesson helped them to refine their offering.
UCOOK has grown to include meal kits, craft meals and baby food and it’s achieved success by doing things that don’t scale. It’s the personal touch that has won loyal fans and grown the brand.
Their top advice:
Put your customer first, be willing to try, learn, fail and get back up again, and reverse engineer your success.
2. How Sumting Fresh was launched with R16 000
In 2012, Hezron Louw quit his job at a bank, and his business partner, Andrew Leeuw left the lodge where he was a chef. They had R16 000 between them, and they used it to buy a trailer and convert it into a food truck, filling it with donated kitchen equipment from friends and family. Sumting Fresh was born. Instant success, however, was not.
Andrew and Hezron’s journey teaches us that the key to success often comes down to determination, grit and patience.
From making ends meet by selling lunch off Bekker Road in Midrand, to finally convincing the manager of the Fourways Farmer’s market to let them have a stand, these two entrepreneurs have created opportunities for themselves that have organically grown the business, building a brand that has become well-known as a corporate cater and through a restaurant in Norwood.
Their top advice:
The businesses that can be launched with limited funds (such as a food truck), often come with low barriers to entry and high competition as well. The key to differentiating is to keep shifting the bar. Focus on innovating and delivering a fresh, customer-focused product. Don’t follow in your sector – become the leader.
3. From a single SMS to a R700-million business
Charles Stretch and James Pearce launched SMSPortal from a garage in Port Elizabeth when they were still students. They had saved R25 000 and had developed a platform that used SMSes to communicate what was happening in the local club scene to students.
Within six months they realised how their system could benefit the business sector. It was 2002, and businesses were looking for an instant, reliable and trackable way to communicate directly with customers.
Enter SMSPortal. Developing a product that suited market needs was step one. The real tipping point came when the business landed its first large corporate client. The social proof of having such a large, well-know brand on board opened doors to other deals, and the business has grown steadily ever since.
Their top advice:
Keep things simple. Even if the business is growing exponentially and becoming increasingly complex, focus on what you are doing, who you are helping and why you are doing it. This may mean changing your solutions over time – just keep your eye on your purpose.
4. How Robin Olivier started with just R5000 – and built a R240 million business
In 1999, Robin Olivier and his two partners, Ashley Legg and Roberto Ferreira took the R5 000 they had between them after paying their bills and launched Coza Digital.
Their business model was simple: they had the computer skills to service Apple Macs, and as long as they could land enough jobs to pay their personal bills, they didn’t need to invest more into the business. They used the R5000 they had to buy a hard drive, which they needed to back up and service client machines, and a toolkit each and they were ready to go.
The key to Robin’s success has been how niche the business was. Within two years, Coza Digital was even on Apple’s radar, because businesses that offered Apple support in South Africa were small and fragmented. Apple even suggested that Coza Digital consolidate with other small players in the market, ensuring the business grew and become more impactful.
Today the business operates as Digicape, but it has remained an Apple-focused services and product provider.
Their top advice:
Look for a gap in the market that others aren’t filling and then make sure your potential customers will pay you for your solution. The key is to put the problem first and let the solution follow.
5. Zero to R20-million in three years
When Emil Henrico launched his business IT services company, iSSC, he was still employed. To keep costs down, he bootstrapped the business, and launched a virtual office with low overheads. He then got to work focusing on what he believed was an underserviced market: SMEs that required cloud services.
The large players in the market, including Dimension Data and EOH, were concentrating on large corporates. There was very little focus or support for SMEs, and so Emil chose this sector to launch his business and focus his efforts.
It’s a bet that’s paid off. Within three years, iSSC’s turnover broke the R20 million mark, as the company continued to make a name for itself in the SME sector. More importantly, by keeping his business small and cloud-based itself, Emil’s team is fast and agile – perfect for SMEs that make decisions quickly and expect implementation to be fast and seamless.
His top advice:
Understand what your customers need and then tailor a solution that suits them. Email identified that all the big players in the market were selling ‘work from home, modern workspaces and virtualization’, but in a pre-Covid world, none of them were doing it themselves. Emil did the opposite – he set up a virtual office so that he had first-hand experience in what his clients needed and how he could deliver it.
6. From varsity flat to R100-million business
When Bevan Ducasse launched wiGroup in 2008, his goal was to develop a mobile wallet. The idea was sound, but his timing was off – the market wasn’t ready for mobile wallets and so after two years he needed to pivot the business.
At the time, Bevan was still only 26. The business was started in his flat and had only grown to five people – five passionate, dedicated people who were about to be told that even though they had poured their hearts and souls into a mobile wallet that worked, they couldn’t monetise it quickly enough. The choice was pivot or shut down.
The team chose to pivot, using what they had already built to create mobile apps, transaction software and mobile loyalty rewards, payments and vouchers for corporates and large retailers.
It was a painful pivot, but a critical one, and today WiGroup is a R100-million business.
His top advice:
There’s no such thing as an ‘aha’ moment. Bevan hasn’t made a few momentous decisions that have led to a successful business. He and his team have made thousands of small decisions that all add up – even the company’s first big pivot was the culmination of multiple pieces of information, advice, experiences and decisions.